2019 starts off with a bang!
Thanks to this year’s best celestial fireworks show, followed by a stargazer’s fantasy smorgasbord of planetary encounters, including an eerie Wolf Moon eclipse.
This Eclipse will haunt the skies later this month, as the Moon is bathed in a foreboding red light. The event has sparked fear in a lot of people, some of whom (usual suspects), have forecast this as being a sign of the end of days.
For astronomers and the rest of us, however, the event is more fascinating than scary, and is being dubbed the Super Blood Wolf Moon.
Last night our planet reached its closest point to the sun for all of 2019. The Northern Hemisphere’s cold temperatures at this time of year actually arise because the planet is tilted on its axis, and this side of the globe is tilted away from our parent star.
In the predawn hours of this morning the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, reached its peak. Rates this morning ranged from 60 to 120 shooting stars an hour when seen from a dark location. This year, the waning crescent moon provided ideal conditions for seeing even faint meteors.
The meteors appeared to radiate from the northeast sky, just off the handle of the Big Dipper.
For some lucky sky-watchers, the year’s first new moon will seem to take a bite out of the sun.
The partial solar eclipse will begin at sunrise in Asia, starting in China at 7:34 a.m. local time (23:34 UT on January 5) and moving across Japan, Korea, and Russia. Four-and-a-half hours later, it will cross Alaska’s Aleutian Islands at local sunset (3:48 UT on January 6).
People in the Americas, Africa, and Europe will unfortunately miss this celestial show, but late on the 20th, Earth’s dark shadow will creep over the full wolf moon, turning the silvery orb blood red during the year’s only total lunar eclipse. By cosmic coincidence, this full moon will also be especially close to Earth that night, making it a so-called supermoon.
Totality, or total coverage of the moon, will begin at 11:41 p.m. ET on January 20 (4:41 UT on January 21) and will last for 62 minutes. The entire 3.5-hour event—including partial eclipses before and after totality—will be visible from the Americas, Greenland, Iceland, western Europe, and western Africa.
Sky-watchers in eastern Europe and eastern Africa will witness only the partial eclipse, while people in most of Asia will not see any part of the eclipse.
The name of this latest eclipse has roots in Native American culture. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Native Americans named this particular Blood Moon the ‘wolf’ Moon as it elicited particular behaviours from the predators. The original Americans observed wolves more often howled in hunger outside of villages and camps when the Blood Moon descended, and named it thus.
Then on January 22, two of the brightest planets visible in Earth’s skies will join forces in a spectacular conjunction at dawn. Venus (the planet of love) and huge Jupiter (luck) will appear to be separated by only two degrees, so that the brilliant duo will dominate the southeastern sky.
A pretty auspicious combo if you ask me, and one that may well find you howling at the moon!
For more about these celestial events (and to watch them if you are out of range), please visit NASA’s site linked below.
All images thanks to NASA except for moon over Taos Mountain, Stock Files.